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Review: Corning offers wit and creativity in 'Parallel Lives'

| Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, 9:04 p.m.

“Parallel Lives,” a new work by Beth Corning, is enchanting dance theater that offers a witty and rueful look at partnering in a contemporary context.

The Sept. 10 premiere at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side lasted just under an hour. It featured riveting performances by Corning and Arthur Aviles.

Corning's strengths as a choreographer and dancer are well-known in Pittsburgh. Aviles is a Bessie Award winner for choreography who is equally bold and precise. The production values are sophisticated, including a brilliant use of double scrims.

The show begins with Aviles pulling aside the front scrim, which is only a few feet from the audience. The exposition lasts about 20 minutes, during which we see the parallel lives of a couple who are compulsively drawn to their smartphones and laptops. The woman — behind a second scrim that divides the stage in half — can't even complete folding one piece of laundry, drawn as she is to her electronic devices. The man, in the front room, flits between his phone, computer and TV.

They're each having a good time, laughing and otherwise actively engaged in their separate worlds. Corning's choice of music throughout the show is unfailingly apt. In this section, it's uptempo and brightly colored, and completely emotionless.

By definition, parallel lines never meet, but the middle sections of Corning's new piece move through phases of becoming closer. They end up on the sofa in the room the man inhabits, but when they first reach for each other they don't touch, let alone embrace. When he puts his hand on hers a moment later, it's as though they're on a first date.

Corning reveals her romantic heart in the ensuing sections, in which the couple enjoys each other's company with various moves — some just playful, other flirtatious. And they dance joyously, together and in solos.

The sharpest moments of humor come in the vocabulary of the two characters after the playing of Fred Astaire singing “Cheek to Cheek,” with eloquent words and soaring music by Irving Berlin. Expect some people to laugh out loud.

Corning may be a romantic, but she's too much a realist to end her piece there. In the final section, the man and woman are each back on their devices. Both scrims are used at once to show different images created by Akiko Kotani of a rainy night. Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh was the creative projection designer; Iain Court provided excellent lighting design.

“Parallel Lives” is the latest in a string of touching and masterly pieces Corning has created since leaving Dance Alloy Theater, where she was executive/artistic director from 2003 to '09. It stopped being a creative force two years after she left when it merged with the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. Her creative force burns more brightly than ever.

Corning Works' “Parallel Lives” will be repeated at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 and 13 and 2 p.m. Sept. 14 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square, North Side. Admission: $30, $25 for students and seniors; Sept. 14 is pay-what-you-can at the door. Details: 888-718-4253 or showclix.com.

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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